Out of Russia: Diary of a KGB man who spied with a little eye
Friday 07 May 1993
Here is how I found it: Last month I reported on a property dispute involving a little yellow mansion on Moscow's Great Garden Street. A crony of Boris Yeltsin's had grabbed it from a teacher who was hoping to set up a music school. Before her, the tenants had been the staff of a KGB district office.
While the teacher briefly occupied the building, I helped her to clean it and gathered up in a plastic bin-liner some of the rubbish left behind by the untidy KGB men. Files on staff from the nearby Mayakovsky Theatre, deciding who was 'morally stable and ideologically disciplined' enough to be allowed to go abroad, were an unexpected and interesting find. But the gem was a KGB officer's work-log for 1985-1986 written in a neat hand in a diary illustrated with pictures of the Soviet merchant fleet.
The first page, which might have borne the owner's name, was missing. But inside were two passport photographs, probably of the author. He was a middle-aged man in a dark suit and spotted tie, with a silver streak running through his black hair, and eyes which might have had a potential for gentleness were they not joined to a boxer's nose and an unsmiling slit of a mouth. Judging from the diary, he was fairly senior so I called him The Major.
I doubt the journal reveals any state secrets - indeed I fervently hope it does not. But ploughing through the text, which was difficult to decipher because The Major used many abbreviations, I began to get a picture of his working life. He had a network of occasional informers whom he protected by giving them colourful code names such as The Architect, Radio Man, Monarchist, Vector and The Dodger.
The Major was working when Mikhail Gorbachev had just started his reforms and the changes were obviously making his life difficult. 'The wider limits allowed by glasnost make the specialised services of the adversary change their tactics,' he wrote in his heavy bureaucratic style. Possibly these were not his own ideas but notes of instructions from higher up. 'The adversary will provide considerable means for subversive activity in the central region of the country with Moscow being most vulnerable. So our most important task now is counter-intelligence.'
But The Major lamented that the KGB lacked manpower, and even the informers it had were not reliable. 'Four recruitments in the last quarter,' he wrote in April 1986, 'and 35 agents did not provide one single piece of information. Find out why.' Later the name of the informer Vector appears next to the phrase, 'Problems with agents - refusal to co-operate'.
April was taken up with preparations for May Day which would have been more predictable than this year's violent holiday. 'Five men per thousand, six policemen per thousand,' he wrote. Does this mean that for every thousand 'volunteers' marching through Red Square there were five KGB agents and six policemen to control them? It is a possible interpretation. After May Day, The Major found time to go to his classes: 'US Black Berets, one platoon equals three sections, one section equals eight men,' he wrote. It seems he was studying the US military at night school. Maybe he dreamed of a foreign posting.
The Major kept an eye on the different organisations in his district including a fruit and vegetable warehouse, a sugar factory, churches and hostels for foreign students. (Arabs and Vietnamese without visas gave him trouble.) He makes two cryptic references to weapons having been stolen from a school - which is not as strange as it sounds since Soviet schools used to keep arms for 'civil defence' classes. He speaks of 'two staff being watched at the Pakistan embassy including the military attache' but frustratingly gives no details. And he was looking for a post office employee who had got into trouble (possibly he had been delivering subversive material). The description of the wanted man is vivid: 'Russian in dark winter coat with beaver collar, warm blue jeans, rabbit hat. He has a triangular scar on his right temple.'
The officer spent some of his time breaking up demonstrations. The dissident Democratic Union and Group of Trust are mentioned and he wants to know where they do their photocopying. He was on the look-out for 'people who express their discontent over Afghanistan' and those living on 'unearned incomes' (that is, moonlighters and black marketeers). The Major disliked the hippies who gathered at the Tver Cafe on Suvorovsky Boulevard and he kept lists of the 'mentally ill' and of Jewish nationalists. 'Finkelberg, Dudkin, Akimov Yuri Vitalievich, born 1957, Malaya Bronnaya Street 27/14 Flat 25, pro-Zionist tendencies', he wrote.
He was worried about artists going off the Communist straight and narrow. The Komsomol poetry club had blotted its copybook by allowing 'works of a biased character' to be read out, the On the Boards Theatre had strayed from 'the principles of socialist realism', and a group at the music school attached to the conservatory wanted to perform Jewish music.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the diary is the insight it gives into the dreariness and banality of KGB routine. The Major left no stone unturned and noted the pettiest detail. 'At Shmitovsky Way 7 Flat 63 there is a 40-year-old woman research worker who is planning to boycott the elections . . . The reason is that she has been waiting for years for someone to come and repair her leaky roof.'
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